What just happened?

Somebody sat on the Fast Forward button

Storm Damage, June 21, 2011, Skokie and Morton Grove
Oh my goodness.

And yet:

  • It’s always good to bet on the goodness and mercy of God. This political crisis is his doing.
  • Blessed (still) are the peacemakers.

I voted to remain and felt like I’d been punched.

Paradox, and what to do with it.

stormy photo
Photo by Karsun Designs Photography

Paradox can be a happy place, and leaving it for a simpler place just leads to trouble, I think.

Paradoxes are like the edges of our known world. We sail out to them. But however far we continue to sail, we realise we aren’t getting any further.

Is it true that in all the big questions, if you keep asking long enough, you reach paradox? Suffering and a God of love. Free choice and fate. Healing and sickness. Success and failure. Knowing things and not knowing things. Death and life or judgement and mercy. How can they both exist together? What happens at the place they meet?

This is the place of paradox, where we stand in the cross-winds. Or perhaps the cross-hairs. Or perhaps just in the shadow of the cross itself, where Christ resolved paradoxes by becoming one.

I think the place of paradox is a bleak, empty place, or a full, contented one, depending on whether we stand and complain, or fall and worship.

 

When the opinion pollsters rang

I couldn’t really tell the truth

Was phoned up by Ipsos Mori last night and asked about the referendum, and then other stuff.

Some of the questions seemed like they would yield decent data: ‘eg: which way are you planning to vote?’.

But not so many. ‘On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to vote?’ I have voted at every opportunity since May 1979. Except in May 2013, when I was in a medically induced coma. (And the years I lived in other countries.) Is that a ’10’ then? There is still a week to go. I may fall ill, be hit by an asteroid or emigrate. Perhaps a 9? Or an 8? Or a 7?

Some questions can surely only yield false, pseudo-findings. ‘Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the current government?’ Do I only have two options? They are pretty good on not launching nuclear weapons. They have not reintroduced the rack. I expect they will leave office when voted out. They do not shoot dissidents. This is all good.

On the other hand, they tried to pay for tax breaks for the better-off by equivalent cuts to benefits for the poor which are already set at subsistence levels. This I find less than wholly pleasing.

Or again, what do I think of a certain political leader? My first, true answer, before being moderated by Christian principles, was that I was delighted with him. He has led his party into a wretched state of political self-harm. It’s a joy to behold. Here’s a civil war you can actually buy popcorn for and settle back and enjoy. I am not sure, however, that was the answer sought.

Not sure we should entirely trust the polls.

 

Update June 16: here’s the poll of which I was one of the 1,200 participants, wrapped in the Standard’s spin. Depressing. Questions that extinguish even the faintest possibility of light by demanding binary answers to complex questions — trumping truth, if you will, rather than finding it. For example: do I believe the Treasury forecasts? When has the Treasury got an economic  forecast right in the last 1000 years? So are they lying, then? They are playing games.  ‘Answer a fool according to his folly and you will be like him yourself.’ I wish it were over. 

Faith comes by herring, and herring by the word of cod

Why fish are confused

ShoalI don’t think the average fish can get its head around the idea of dry land.

Perhaps a really creative fish could picture it, but it would face all kinds of scepticism from other fish. How do you swim without water? Wouldn’t the world be two-dimensional, spread on the sea-bed? How can there be room for everything? It’s a wreck.

Nor can science help. How can you do experiments to confirm or deny the presence of a world beyond the sea? Even if fish go there (a big if), they never come back.

The best schools of fish might conclude the whole ‘dry-land delusion’ is a theory, of no practical use, and best ignored. They would, in short, fillet the argument.

Send in the marine (biologist)s

Since the fish can’t figure out dry land for themselves, the only way they can be educated is if we land mammals take the initiative and send someone to tell them. Without revelation from outside, the fish are like the proverbial sailors of the ship carrying red paint that collided with the ship carrying blue paint: marooned.

So, you say, send a marine biologist to tell the fish about the world outside the sea. But would they believe her? Maybe not. Because to get to talk to the fish you have to become so like a fish that they think you are a fish. And who would believe what a raving fish told them?

Not only that, but I have it on good authority that the sea is full of all kinds of voluble fish who speculate widely about a life beyond the sea. Many of them are unreliable witnesses—fishy, in fact—and they contradict each other all the time.

The conclusion of reasonable people? Stick with what you can see, feel and measure. Truth can’t come from anywhere else.

Comments welcome, as are fish jokes.

 

Two very big ideas

About what this Universe is for

street people
RomKa GG@flickr

One is from philosophy, one from theology. Each is an antidote to the popular idea that we humans are just annoying and insignificant growths on a small and remote rock.

Look at the people on the bus around you. Tattooed? Blue-rinsed? Unsavoury politics? Also precious. Cosmically significant. No, really.

Then look at your church if you attend one. Comically insignificant or cosmically significant? Or both? Read on.

Philosphy and science

The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World
The existence of mind in some organism on the planet is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness … This can be no byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here. Paul Davies 1

 

This says: through the people on the bus around (and others) the soulless, material Universe has developed, or been given, a soul. Quite cool.

Theology and mission

The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission
[History] has its action in the eternal being of the Triune God before the creation; it has its goal in the final unity of  the whole creation in Christ; and meanwhile the secret of this cosmic plan, the foretaste of its completion, has been entrusted to these little communities of marginal people scattered through the towns and cities of Asia Minor. Lesslie Newbigin 2

And this says: The little Christian communities of the world, a couple of million of them, a speckling in the human species, are somehow the link between Creation and re-Creation. We carry in us the first streaks of eternity’s dawn. In the midst of all our poverty.

 

The five reasons we hurt ourselves (and others)

The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity
Five habits of the heart cause untold destruction and self-destruction.

Stephen Pinker’s wonderfully stimulating book The better angels of our nature calls them our ‘inner demons’:

‘A small number of quirks in our cognitive and emotional makeup give rise to a substantial proportion of avoidable human misery.’ 1. Humanists see them as products of evolution; Christians, as aspects of fallenness.

Below I have compared these Five Deadly Quirks with the Beatitudes, as taught by Christ. It’s interesting how directly Jesus addresses them; how prevalent they are; and how vital to fight them.

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‘A colourful life is an act of worship’

A colourful life is an act of worship. Discuss.

Frosty autumn leavesI found myself wondering the other day why God made a colourful Universe rather than making do with black-and-white one, which would be much cheaper and more functional.

For example, making new humans out of pre-existing humans could be vastly streamlined. All you really need do is zip together together two zygotes. How hard is that? A bit of gene-splicing in a test-tube. You could dispense with massive inefficiencies: coyness, vulnerability, dating, conversations, misunderstandings, flowers, meals, presents, inflated wedding costs, awkward honeymoons and much else. Yet God seems stubbornly set in his massively inefficient ways.

He has, it seems, chosen a slow and colourful (to say the least) option for human reproduction, despite a simple fix being available given a decent lab and the political will.

Then I thought of how many criticisms of the Christian faith, and especially of us evangelicals, really boil down to aesthetics. Think of Christians in literature: sour-faced, pleasure-hating, ugly, dull, unimaginative, hard and humourless.

There are reasons. A self-indulgent pursuit of ornateness and fussiness can be a form of greed, a worship of idols. We don’t want that.

But colour can also be a sign of love and joy, even a mark of the Holy Spirit. And God is the prime culprit when it comes to littering creation with needless beauty.

Next time I tread on a leaf which has been bronzed by a season in the sun, piped with frost, blown carelessly from a heap, ridiculously lovely, satisfyingly crunchy, yet which is is basically a unit for converting photons into fructose, I ought to remember.

 

On editing the bad writing of good people

In search of a word as good as ‘lunch’.

Word

I used to work as an editor on a Christian magazine and I remember writing this:

On my desk I have words cemented together in monster monologues like communist-era apartment blocks, flat and impenetrable, not for humans. I have ugly words (maximised) and phrases that should never have been born (first and foremost) crawling out of my piled-up papers like cockroaches.

It’s grim.

I never seem to meet the subtle, the pert, the playful, the resonant-with-life words. (Lunch. Hug. Wry. Fragrant. Squidgy.)  Instead, alarmingly, the banal presses in, all around. “To me,” writes one earnest contributor, “Life is a journey.” Perhaps this will be helpful to your readers.

Help.

The case for beguiling

Some of us need waking gently

A November 2015 survey asked British people for their response to being at the receiving end of a conversation about Jesus from a practising Christian.

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As well as leading us to a grudging admiration for the independence of thought and scepticism of the average Brit, what else can this teach us?

Perhaps the need to be beguiling, not direct, to give people a sniff, not a verse, to bide our time. Some of us take a long time to be woken in the mornings. 

wakeup

Vocation: what to do when you have no time or are in a job you hate

UphillVocation is about ‘where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.’2

It can seem like a luxury if you don’t have a minute to spare in the day. If you’re tired all the time. Or if you’re holding down job(s) just to pay the bills.

Vocation isn’t a luxury.

Especially if you’re tired, stressed, or overworked, it’s an essential. It’s daily bread for  your soul.

What is vocation for you? What satisfies your heart? Painting? Hospitality? Intercessory prayer? Helping others? Seeing kids grow? Reading? Dance?

Find some time just for this. It might be only half an hour an month. It might mean going to bed late or setting the alarm early. You can manage that once a month.

I am in the happy position of having nearly died (three times). I have had my heart restarted after it stopped. I have spent a month in a coma. I’ve actually forgotten how many times I’ve been carried in an ambulance with the blue lights flashing.

One thing I learnt was this. Don’t die with your music still inside you. Do something about it, however small.

If you’re coming at this article from the background of a Christian faith, understand that your vocation is the best thing you can do for the Kingdom of God. It’s the best way of serving God and neighbour. Vocation, in these terms, has an audience of just One: the lover of your soul. Do it for him.

If that isn’t your background, pursue your deepest love anyway. Do it this month. Start somewhere. You will find you are not so stressed, not so overworked in the rest of your time. And you know that seasons change, kids grow up, the mortgage gets paid, space opens. Don’t miss the moments you can  prise out, like diamonds, from a barren-feeling life.